Beware of The Dog

Written by Jonathan Clay de Hale

Is it ever right for Christians to describe evil in unflattering terms?

Judging by the hyperbolic angst of the political left and the mainstream media, you’d have thought that President Donald Trump had called Prince Louis Arthur Charles an ugly baby. But you’d be wrong, because all he did was call MS-13 gang members “animals.”

MS-13 is a criminal gang whose motto is “Kill. Rape. Control.” and they are responsible for some of the most violent crimes in the United States. Their curriculum vitae includes stabbing a man more than 100 times, decapitating him and then cutting his heart out; stabbing a teenage boy 16 times, then running him over and cutting off his hands; and kidnapping, torturing, raping and murdering teenage girls.

The president often speaks in an unscripted, non-sequitur stream of consciousness so it is sometimes hard to follow his train of thought.  But a simple and fair reading of his comments during a White House discussion about sanctuary cities shows that his harsh words were meant for MS-13:

SHERIFF MIMS: Thank you. There could be an MS-13 member I know about—if they don’t reach a certain threshold,[1] I cannot tell ICE about it.

THE PRESIDENT: We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in—and we’re stopping a lot of them—but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.

Both press and progressives, always ready to be scandalized by a president they detest, exaggerated the scope of his comments. Plucking the two sentences, “These aren’t people. These are animals,” from their context, they published them as proof that the president had stripped all immigrants of their dignity, thereby dehumanizing them and putting them on the fast track to internment camps.

Astonishingly, so did some progressive Christians, who joined their woke brethren in calling out the president for his remarks. Words like “sinful,” “racist,” “evil,” “disgusting” and “dangerous” were applied to the president’s comments by believers. Their argument was that doing so showed contempt for the imago Dei inherent in every person and contradicted Jesus’ call to love everyone always.

Setting aside whether the president was referring to all illegal aliens or just MS-13, are progressives right? Is it evil or sinful for Christians to refer to wicked men with a denigrating term?

If it is, then Jesus Himself committed a grave sin when he called Herod a “fox.” The epithet was considered an insult because the fox was used to describe someone as a worthless, inept demagogue. Jesus cut Herod down to size, in essence saying, “Herod is an unrighteous, pompous clown who can’t keep me from driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and reaching my goal on the third day.”

Not only that, but Jesus insulted the Pharisees, calling them whitewashed tombs, hypocrites, blind guides, dogs, pigs, snakes and vipers. And these were religious leaders, not violent criminals. And when the disciples told him that the Pharisees were offended by what he said, Jesus said, “Leave them.” In our contemporary world, He would have had to issue a public apology after being sued for slander.

And what about the Apostle Paul, who told the Philippians to “watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh”? A dog was an unclean animal and to call one a dog (again referring to the Pharisees) was a strong expression of contempt. Today, Paul would be called out for his insulting and dehumanizing language about the Judaizers.

And then there’s Peter, who in referring to false teachers, writes, “These people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.” Peter calls a class of people the very word our progressive brothers and sisters insist we don’t use: “animals.” According to them, Peter was denying the inherent dignity in every person.

Of course, they’re wrong. To suggest that Jesus, Peter and Paul (or any other writer in scripture) was denying the image of God in human beings is to deny everything that they labored for, including Christ’s crucifixion, and the beatings and depravation the disciples endured. They were simply using the cultural idioms of their day to describe the depth of the unrighteous character being exhibited.

The same is true for us. When we describe someone as an “animal,” we use the word as shorthand for “devoid of human attributes or civilizing influences,” like animals which are driven by their primal urges.

The danger in being shamed by other believers into thinking we’re unloving or un-Christlike if we use such words is that we lose the forceful language we need to stress the depths of depravity we sometimes encounter. Saying of MS-13 something such as, “they are made in the image of God but are displaying evil behavior,” obscures the cruel and vicious nature of their foul deeds. When we soften our language, we begin losing our ability to draw sharp moral distinctions between what it does or does not mean to be human.

Jesus and his followers denounced evil in the strongest possible terms without compromising their mission of seeking and saving the lost. We too must preserve our ability to name evil in unambiguous language.

That doesn’t give us permission to run around calling people names whenever we feel like it. We never want to use such rhetoric to label someone based on their nationality, religion, race, ethnicity or any other immutable, non-behavioral characteristic. That’s what happened to the Jews (“rats”) in Germany and the Tutsis (“cockroaches”) in Rwanda.

But that’s not what happened here. Despite the melodramatic warnings, the only place President Trump’s comment will lead is to the increased deportation of these animalsnot boxcars or indiscriminate genocide.

[1] Threshold: California law “restricts police officers in California from working and sharing data with ICE, unless the undocumented immigrant has committed one of 800 crimes.”

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